COVID-19 transmission occurs primarily from person-to-person through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets are produced and may be transferred to another person when these droplets are inhaled or accidentally made its way to the uninfected person’s eyes, mouth, or nose. Because of this, the CDC released guidelines on how to slow down the spread of the coronavirus which include the use of face covering.1 2
As the number of confirmed cases continue to rise globally – the US alone having 928,619 cases as of April 25 – the demand for medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) has also risen dramatically.3 Aside from the underinvestment in preparation for a pandemic in the past years, the US also relies on the global supply chain of medical supplies that is 85% in China.4 Several Asian countries wherein PPE are manufactured limited their exports, thereby affecting PPE supply in the US.5 Face masks, in particular, have been in shortage since the spread of COVID-19. There are only few manufacturers of face masks in the US such as Prestige Ameritech and Moldex, all of which are unable to keep up with the demand.6
We looked at face mask innovations in the US in the past 20 years. We have listed some notable patents and patent applications.
U.S. Patent No. 7,036,507
|Current Assignee: Alpha Pro Tech Inc|
|Priority Date: 18 December 2003|
|Abstract: The invention provides a filter mask for filtering air inhaled and exhaled from the mouth and nostrils while providing a positive facial lock at all edges of the mask. The filter mask has upper and lower edges which are provided with malleable stiffeners for conforming to the shape of the wearer's nose and cheek area and the lower jaw and chin area, respectively. The material of the filter mask is folded to have an omega pleat for forming a breathing chamber and a secondary pleat for assisting in securing the mask to the lower jaw and chin area. A pair of headbands are used to hold the mask on the head. The peripheral edges of the mask are bound. The mask provides excellent filtration since the positive facial lock around all edges of the mask substantially prevents air from leaking between the mask and the face.|
|Forward Citations: 56|
Alpha Pro Tech (APT) manufactures several protective apparel including masks, face shields, respirators and veils.7 8 In a patent by APT, a filter mask for use in various medical, industrial, and domestic applications is disclosed. The mask can filter either inhaled or exhaled air while maintaining a positive facial lock on the mask’s edges.
U.S. Patent No. 6,571,797
Single strap respirator mask with head harness
|Current Assignee: Moldex Metric Inc|
|Priority Date: 16 July 2001|
|Abstract: A single strap respirator mask with a head harness, including a respirator mask, which has a cup shape to fit over the face of a user. The mask includes a pair of ear portions located at and extending from opposite sites of the mask and each ear portion tapers in width from an inside position to an outside end as it extends from the mask. A single strap extends around the head of a user and is attached to the outside end of each ear portion. A head harness is attached to the single strap and lies against the back of the head of a user. The head harness has a width substantially larger than the width of the strap to broaden the support of the strap against the back of the head of a user.|
|Forward Citations: 39|
Moldex Metric is a respiratory and hearing protection manufacturer for several applications such as construction, mining, and healthcare. Their core products are manufactured in the US and are PVC-free as a greener alternative.9 A single strap respirator mask with head harness is disclosed in one of Moldex’s patents. The respirator mask features straps that evenly distribute pressure over a wide area to avoid ear fatigue.
U.S. Patent No. 8,091,551
Face mask with filtering closure
|Current Assignee: Prestige Ameritech Ltd|
|Priority Date: 16 September 2002|
|Abstract: There is provided a protective media and a method of manufacturing the same. In one aspect, the protective media includes a porous dielectric carrier, an active agent incorporated in the porous dielectric carrier, and an electrostatic charge across at least a portion of the porous dielectric carrier. This innovative media is capable of eradicating microorganisms and/or toxins more efficiently than prior art solutions and can also self sterilize.|
|Forward Citations: 21|
Texas-based face mask company, Prestige Ameritech, is one of the local manufacturers of face masks in the US. Although their products are more expensive than those with manufacturing plants overseas, they are also currently struggling to keep up with the demands for face masks.10 A face mask with filtering closure is disclosed in Prestige Ameritech’s patent. The face mask may include a biostatic material that inhibit growth of viruses for enhanced protection.
U.S. Patent No. 7,077,139
Disposable face mask
|Current Assignee: O&M Halyard Inc|
|Priority Date: 19 December 2002|
|Abstract: A disposable face mask includes a mask body covering substantially a nose, mouth, and chin of a wearer, and an extension provided with the mask body. The extension is configured to encircle a back of a wearer's head and to substantially cover a wearer's cheeks, jaw, and ears. A substantial portion of the extension is formed from a resilient material treated with a repellant agent to prevent contaminants from entering or exiting such treated portion of the extension.|
|Forward Citations: 16|
In 2018, O&M Halyard submitted plans for a new machine that can produce protective respirator masks at high speed to the US Department of Health and Human Services. However, the department did not proceed to execute the plan due to the lack of funding.11 In one of Halyard’s patents, a disposable face mask is disclosed which includes an extension covering the wearer’s cheeks, jaw, and ears.
U.S. Patent No. 9,616,258
Dispensable face mask and method of making the same
|Current Assignee: 3M Innovative Properties Co|
|Priority Date: 3 March 2010|
|Abstract: A method of making a face mask is disclosed. The method includes providing an elastic nonwoven web continuous in a machine direction, the elastic nonwoven web having a central lane extending in the machine direction; bonding a filtering web to the central lane of the elastic nonwoven web to provide a layered web, the filtering web being continuous in the machine direction and having a cross-web width that is substantially the same as the cross-web width of the central lane; and stamping a face mask into the layered web. A face mask and a continuous layered web having a plurality of face masks disposed thereon are also disclosed.|
|Forward Citations: 5|
3M, one of the largest manufacturers of N95 face masks, is also faced with high demand since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Despite the high demand worldwide, the company reached an agreement with the US government to produce 55.5M masks per month for US health workers.12 An example of 3M’s face mask is disclosed in the ‘258 patent wherein the face mask is dispensable for easier storage and retrieval. The invention is also comprised of a filtering web portion which may reduce viral or bacterial contamination.
The following are some selected patent applications that have additional features aside from the usual filter capabilities of face masks:
Droplet collection devices and methods to detect and control airborne communicable diseases utilizing rfid
|Current Assignee: General Fiber|
|Priority Date: 25 January 2006|
|Forward Citations: 46|
Humidification face mask
|Current Assignee: Humid Medical Technology|
|Priority Date: 11 January 2009|
|Description: self-contained disposable re-humidification mask for patients that encountered trauma to the nose, mouth, and throat|
|Forward Citations: 4|
Electronic respirator mask
|Current Assignee: Biolx Inc.|
|Priority Date: 28 April 2015|
|Description: facemask may include electrodes and sensors for detecting environmental pollution|
|Forward Citations: 0|
Custom-controllable powered respirator face mask
|Current Assignee: Honeywell International|
|Priority Date: 29 September 2016|
|Description: powered facemask that is able to draw in air from external atmospheric environment, filter the air, and provide it to the user|
|Forward Citations: 0|
Temperature sensitive surgical face mask for identifying at risk patients and reducing viral infection
|Current Assignee: Thomas Jefferson University|
|Priority Date: 12 April 2016|
|Description: facemask has a thermochromic material that changes color at a predefined temperature|
|Forward Citations: 0|
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevent Getting Sick,” [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html. [Accessed 8 April 2020].
- World Health Organization, “Coronavirus,” [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus. [Accessed 4 March 2020].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Cases of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in the U.S.,” [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html. [Accessed 27 April 2020].
- K. O’Keeffe, “China’s Export Restrictions Strand Medical Goods U.S. Needs to Fight Coronavirus, State Department Says,” The Wall Street Journal, 16 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-export-restrictions-strand-medical-goods-u-s-needs-to-fight-coronavirus-state-department-says-11587031203. [Accessed 24 April 2020].
- Z. Schlanger, “Begging for Thermometers, Body Bags, and Gowns: U.S. Health Care Workers Are Dangerously Ill-Equipped to Fight COVID-19,” TIME, 20 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://time.com/5823983/coronavirus-ppe-shortage/. [Accessed 24 April 2020].
- Y. Noguchi, “Not Enough Face Masks Are Made In America To Deal With Coronavirus,” NPR.org, 5 March 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/05/811387424/face-masks-not-enough-are-made-in-america-to-deal-with-coronavirus. [Accessed 8 April 2020].
- AlphaProTech, “About Us,” [Online]. Available: https://www.alphaprotech.com/about/about.aspx. [Accessed 21 April 2020].
- L. Navellier, “Alpha Pro Tech Stock Will Ride High on Protective Gear Demand,” NASDAQ, 14 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/alpha-pro-tech-stock-will-ride-high-on-protective-gear-demand-2020-04-14. [Accessed 21 April 2020].
- Moldex, “Our Company,” [Online]. Available: https://www.moldex.com/our-company/. [Accessed 21 April 2020].
- R. Legare, “America’s largest face mask manufacturer can’t keep up with coronavirus demand,” CBS News, 26 February 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-face-masks-prestige-ameritech-demand/. [Accessed 21 April 2020].
- J. Swaine, “Federal government spent millions to ramp up mask readiness, but that isn’t helping now,” The Washington Post, 4 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/federal-government-spent-millions-to-ramp-up-mask-readiness-but-that-isnt-helping-now/2020/04/03/d62dda5c-74fa-11ea-a9bd-9f8b593300d0_story.html. [Accessed 21 April 2020].
- R. Sandler, “Trump Ends Feud With Mask Maker 3M, Announces Deal For 55 Million U.S. Masks Per Month,” Forbes, 6 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/04/06/trump-ends-feud-with-mask-maker-3m-announces-deal-for-55-million-us-masks-per-month/#9029dd412097. [Accessed 20 April 2020].
- R. Ferris, “US industrial giant 3M scrambles to meet demand for face masks as coronavirus spreads,” CNBC, 30 March 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/30/3m-scrambles-to-meet-coronavirus-demand-for-face-masks.html. [Accessed 20 April 2020].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevent Getting Sick,” 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html. [Accessed 21 April 2020].